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Notes: Valverde off to solid start

Notes: Valverde off to solid start

PHOENIX -- There are a lot of things different about Jose Valverde this season.

He's cut back on his pitch repertoire to focus on just a fastball and a splitter.

He's taken a little bit off his velocity to focus more on better location.

He even became a father for the first time during Spring Training.

The Diamondbacks hope all of this results in a different season for their closer, after a 2006 that saw him lose his stopper's role and spend six weeks in the Minor Leagues.

So far, so good, as "Papa Grande" has allowed just one earned run in five appearances this season, saving four games in five opportunities.

"It's confidence as a closer and having that short memory when you blow a save," said manager Bob Melvin. "We saw there was a game in Colorado that he didn't close out, yet he's come back and pitched well.

"He's able to locate better. He's using his split better and not tinkering with all of the pitches that he did at times when he was struggling last year, which to me, was more of an indication his confidence wasn't there."

The manager said that Valverde accepted the challenge that came with being sent down to Triple-A in early July.

"Obviously, he wasn't happy about it," said Melvin. "He came back and had to pitch in a different role than he was accustomed to. But he pitched well enough to move himself back into that closer's role."

A key to watch going forward will be how well Valverde pitches against left-handed batters. Last season, lefties hit .323 off him, while he held righties to just a .192 mark. Thus far, lefties are 3-for-10 against Valverde in 2007.

Quicker than expected? The news continues to be good for injured right fielder Carlos Quentin as he recovers from a tear in the labrum of his non-throwing shoulder.

Quentin played the field and went 2-for-5 in an extended Spring Training game on Friday, and as Melvin reported: "Everything went well. He took some swings that were maybe a little dicier than last time, some reach swings, and he kind of had to go out and get one."

Quentin is scheduled to play a full game for Triple-A Tucson on Saturday, and Melvin left open the possibility Quentin could be back with the team as early as the beginning of next week.

"We kind of targeted when we go on the road [Wednesday]," said the D-backs' skipper. "I don't know. Depending on how things go with the Dodgers series, [Monday] may not be out of the question."

Making sure: With Randy Johnson starting for Triple-A Tucson on Friday night, Melvin was asked if the original timeframe of Johnson returning on the 18th or the 19th was still intact.

"We've said all along that each outing will be indicative of what we he needs to do the next time," said Melvin. "If we feel like he needs another outing, we're going to err on the side of caution. So could he be there on those dates? Absolutely. But it's not like it's an 80/20 proposition out there. We have to see how he does tonight first."

Edgar Gonzalez and Micah Owings, who are scheduled to start on Monday and Tuesday, may be pitching to keep a rotation job.

"We've got two guys that are pitching pretty well, so we want to make sure [Johnson] is 100 percent healthy because it's a long season," said the manager. "It's going to be a difficult decision regardless."

Well deserved: Brandon Webb will be presented with his 2006 National League Cy Young Award prior to Saturday night's game. He will also be presented with a custom-made Fender guitar honoring the award.

Right on time: Melvin spoke about the team's 7-3 start, and discussed what he felt has been a key for the club.

"Kind of the theme for this team -- at least for the first 10 games -- is doing it at the right time," said the manager. "Stephen Drew draws a walk in a game where he ends up being the winning run, or Scott Hairston gets a bunt down and it's the first time he's bunted in like 10 years, or Chris Young hitting [.190], yet being among the league leaders in RBIs. It's doing it when we needed it to be done.

"For the first 10 games, the most important thing is that our timing has been very good."

Tunes to hit by: In a light moment, Melvin was asked if he were playing today, what music he would choose to hear as he walked to the batter's box. Melvin went the classic rock route, saying his choices would be "Gimme Shelter" by the Rolling Stones and Steppenwolf's "Magic Carpet Ride."

Up next: Livan Hernandez takes the mound for the D-backs in Game 2 of this three-game weekend series with the Rockies on Saturday. He'll be opposed by Colorado sinkerballer Aaron Cook. First pitch is schedule for 6:40 p.m. MST.

Jason Grey is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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